PATRICK LAWRENCE: More Futile Pacific Overtures

Nearly halfway through Biden’s term in office he finally met the Chinese president to discuss the single most important relationship between any two nations anywhere in the world.

Then U.S. Vice President Joe Biden back in 2012, during a visit to Los Angeles by China’s Xi Jinping. (David Starkopf / Office of Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa, Flickr,CC BY-NC 2.0)

By Patrick Lawrence
Special to Consortium News

I’ve given up being amazed at how stupidly the Biden administration conducts its diplomacy with China and, by extension, Asia altogether. I spend my time now being amazed at how stupid these people assume the Chinese and other Asians to be.

Nearly halfway through his term in office — and let us hope there is not another after this one — the man from Scranton finally met Chinese President Xi Jinping Monday to discuss the single most important relationship between any two nations anywhere in the world.

This first face-to-face encounter since Joe Biden began his presidency comes after nearly two years of diplomatic drift during which the U.S. has escalated the threat of open conflict, incessantly provoked the Chinese on the Taiwan question and the administration’s bench of incompetents makes one mess after another. All the while Beijing has been consolidating an extensive range of ties with non–Western nations in the declared cause of a new world order.

I do not see that anything of moment got done when Biden and Xi met just prior to the Group of 20 session in Bali this week. A great deal could have been accomplished, of course, given the worsening state of the bilateral relationship, but Biden proved once again not up to it. He seems to have figured the Chinese side would be too stupid to notice that he and his administration are effectively paralyzed, a herd of deer caught in headlights. 

Our moment calls upon American statesmen and stateswomen to act imaginatively, creatively, even courageously in response to a new era and new geopolitical circumstances. But those sailing the American ship of state, from the president on down, have neither imagination nor creativity nor courage. All they can do is reiterate past positions while expecting the other side to respond differently.

This is what Xi got in Bali on Monday. Nothing more. Nothing has changed, nothing of consequence has moved forward.

It was easy enough to see this pointlessness coming, this remove from reality, as Biden and his people advertised the Bali summit last week. America proposes to “build a floor in the relationship,” officials declared. The object of the encounter was to “set expectations.” The two sides need to “draw red lines,” Biden said in a press conference last Wednesday, “and determine whether or not they” —China’s and Washington’s red lines — “conflict with one another. And if they do, how to resolve it and how to work it out.”

Exhausted Rhetoric

President Joe Biden in a virtual meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Nov. 15, 2021, (White House, Cameron Smith)

What in these various remarks is there to hold onto, what of constructive substance did the U.S. side propose to get done in Bali? It is all sponge, exhausted rhetoric, a continued commitment to avoid addressing the Sino–U.S. relationship seriously.

This is what I mean by paralysis. American officials have nothing to say when they speak across the Pacific, and therefore say nothing in the cotton-wool language of obfuscation. The diplomacy of no diplomacy, as I have previously called it.  

Straight talk — always cover a shortcoming by proclaiming it a strength — was another running theme in the run-up. Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, said at a presser last Thursday: “The president will get to sit in the same room with Xi Jinping, be direct and straightforward with him as he always is, and expect the same in return from Xi.” I love the “as he always is.”

And then the Big Guy, as Hunter Biden called his Pop when doling out the bribes during the latter’s vice-presidency, said: “I know Xi Jinping…. I’ve always had straightforward discussions with him….We have very little misunderstanding. We just got to figure out what the red lines are.”

All this seems to have been calculated to convey the impression that there is a set of new problems between Beijing and Washington and Biden has arrived to resolve them.

Say what? Refusing to put a floor in the Sino–American relationship has been the building block of U.S. policy since the Biden regime came to power in January 2021. China has since that day made its perfectly reasonable expectations clear and has drawn all the red lines it needs, only to see Washington ignore the expectations, the red lines and everything else the Chinese have had to say.

As to Biden the straight talker, this gets to be a clown act. Do he and his people think the Chinese do not know they are dealing with an habitual liar, having been on the receiving end of many of Biden’s falsehoods and elisions — notably, but not only, on the Taiwan question?

I’m not sure why any of this flimsy PR was necessary in the first place. At that press conference last Wednesday Biden asserted with evident righteousness that he would make “no fundamental concessions” to China on the Taiwan question. Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln…

Xi was forthright, as always, when Taiwan came up. “The Taiwan question is at the very core of China’s core interests, the bedrock of the political foundation of China–U.S. relations and the first red line that must not be crossed in China–U.S. relations,” Xi said according to a Xinhua report. “Resolving the Taiwan question is a matter for the Chinese and China’s internal affair.”

It doesn’t get much clearer, does it? And Biden?

“Biden said he sought to assure Xi that U.S. policy on Taiwan, which has for decades been to support both Beijing’s ‘One China’ stance and Taiwan’s military, had not changed,” Reuters reported from Nusa Dua, the Balinese town where the G–20 met Tuesday. “He said there was no need for a new Cold War.”

It doesn’t get much foggier. Biden has stated four times since taking office  that the U.S. will defend Taiwan militarily in the event of open conflict between the island and the mainland — a straight-ahead repudiation of Washington’s longstanding commitment to the One China principle. The U.S. now embarks on a major new program to increase military aid to Taiwan.

Two-Front Cold War

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, left, visiting Taiwan’s legislature in August. (Wikipedia Commons)

As to a new Cold War, we hear the same thing as regards Russia and the Ukraine conflict. It has been evident for many months that the U.S. is well along in waging a two-front Cold War, Ukraine and Taiwan its sharp forward edges. 

And then there is what the Chinese call the salami-slicing, a running series of small aggressions, none very large in itself, to inch away from One China toward de facto support for Taiwan’s independence. U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s grandstanding visit to Taipei last summer is a case in point, even if it proved a very thick slice of salami.

In this latter connection, the ideologically obsessed Sullivan took it upon himself to announce before the Biden–Xi summit that the administration intended to brief Taiwan officials about what was said in the talks. This is two things: another incremental move toward legitimizing Taiwan’s standing as an independent state and, as the Chinese Foreign Ministry succinctly put it, an “egregious” violation of diplomatic protocol. 

It is impossible to imagine that Sullivan spoke without prior calculation. This is how Washington slices its salami.

China’s Patience

Xi Jinping and Joe Biden during Xi’s 2012 visit to Los Angeles. (David Starkopf / Office of Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa, Flickr,CC BY-NC 2.0)

At this point you have to admire the Chinese side for their patience in the face of this tedium. They sit there, one diplomatic encounter after another, and listen courteously as Washington invites them not to believe what is right before their eyes.

Biden’s message to Xi, such as we can speak of one, is by now familiar. Let’s cooperate on non-threatening matters such as climate change, compete in the economic and technology spheres, and face off as adversaries on national security and geopolitical questions — the South China Sea, Taiwan, nuclear stockpiles and so on.

As noted previously in this space, Beijing has been clear from the Biden administration’s first days that it does not take this cake-and-eat-it talk the least bit seriously.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken tried this on a few months after Biden was inaugurated. Then Wendy Sherman, Blinken’s No. 2, tried it. Then John Kerry, as Biden’s top climate diplomat, tried it very briefly. All with the same result: a string of failures — some spectacular (Blinken and Sullivan in Alaska in March 2021), others “quiet disasters,” as Foreign Policy put it after Sherman’s talks in Tianjin a few months later.

Now Biden has just tried the same thing, with a notable assist from Janet Yellen, the Treasury secretary, who accompanied him to Bali.

As noted some weeks ago, the U.S. has just imposed a range of new restrictions on U.S. technology exports explicitly intended — see Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo — to retard, if not block altogether, China’s development in high-technology sectors such as semiconductors. We have to assume this shameful act of industrial sabotage is what Biden and the policy cliques mean by competing on the economic side.

Here is Yellen, in an interview with The New York Times last Saturday, on the new sanctions, and we’ll have to forgive the non-sentence:

“I think stabilizing the relationship and trying to get it on a better footing while recognizing that we have a whole range of concerns, and we would like to address those…. They need to understand, for example, why we take actions. I know their concern, for example, about our policies of banning sales of advanced semiconductors. It’s important for us to explain why we’re doing things, how it’s delineated, that it’s not an attempt to completely paralyze China’s economy and stop its development.”

No, not completely, just critically and mostly.

In his post-summit remarks, Biden said he told Xi it was China’s responsibility to keep North Korea’s weapons programs in check and that if Beijing failed to do so the U.S. “would have to take certain actions that would be more defensive on our own behalf.” This is an altogether bizarre remark, but I detect a veiled intention in it — two, in fact.

One, by assigning China responsibility for Pyongyang’s conduct, ridiculous on the face of it, Joe “Diplomacy First” Biden is weaseling out of any renewed effort to open talks with the North: It is all on you, Mr. Xi.

Two, this position may be a screen — hard to say just yet—for what is already a major Pentagon program to increase the U.S. military presence in the western Pacific. The U.S. has used North Korea as an excuse in this way for many years, let us not forget.

I don’t know how quiet or noisy this disaster will prove, but I am certain of the disaster part. China agreed to reopen lines of communications on climate matters and other such questions, which it had closed in response to the Pelosi visit. It is not nothing, but it is barely more.

I do not know where in the proceedings this remark occurred, but I consider Xi had the last word:  

“History is the best textbook. We should take it as a mirror and let it guide the future…. A statesman should think about and know where to lead his country. He should also think about and know how to get along with other countries and the wider world.”

Excellent stuff. After half a millennium of the Atlantic world’s dominance, the non–West lectures the West. It tells us just what time it is on history’s clock.

—Research provided by Cara Marianna.

Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a columnist, essayist, author and lecturer. His most recent book is Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century. His Twitter account, @thefloutist, has been permanently censored. His web site is Patrick Lawrence. Support his work via his Patreon site.  His web site is Patrick Lawrence. Support his work via his Patreon site

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.


22 comments for “PATRICK LAWRENCE: More Futile Pacific Overtures

  1. peter mcloughlin
    November 19, 2022 at 08:29

    If Washington’s and Beijing’s red lines clash there can only be one outcome: war, world war. The leaderships are ignoring the prescient warnings of history.

  2. LeoSun
    November 17, 2022 at 15:47

    Mr. Patrick Lawrence, back atcha, “EXCELLENT STUFF!!!”

    Awh, Mon, “The fruit is Rotten!!!”

    The oldigarch is hollow. $pending decades on The Hill. Now shuffling on the world stage, posing as POTUS, masquerading as Human. His Board of Executioners w/him, everywhere he goes.

    And, POTUS a shell w/a warped mind & a calloused heart will never f/ever be “The Leader” of our time or for our time.

    Imo, the planet’s best Scientist cannot make a Statesman out of a Political Corpse. “STATESMANSHIP” is NOT in Joey Robinette Biden’s DNA. Umpteenth plus years on The Hill. The “only” thing that Scientist has to work with, is POTUS’ Board of Executioners & their Rules Based Domestic Order (RBO) &/or the Rules Based International Order (RBIO) i.e., “The Divided $tates of Corporate America fka The USA “makes the rules; the rest of the world must do as it is told.”

    Props for this gem, which clearly speaks to what one can do w/that RBIO, “History is the best textbook. We should take it as a mirror and let it guide the future…. A statesman should think about and know where to lead his country. He should also think about and know how to get along with other countries and the wider world.”

    Seriously, The Divided $tates of Corporate America’s Congress needs to “Make History,” REMOVE the Biden-Harris duo; AND, END the “War on Terra,” by the End of this Year, 2022. The powers that be can fuhgeddabout, 2024!!!

    Start Over, NOW, w/The Plan To Save The Planet!!! Developed by Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research & The Network of Research Institutes.” Imo, “A Plan To Save The Planet,” is the path to “economic recovery, diplomacy, & peace.” And, Patrick Lawrence, you totally rocked it! TY. “KEEP IT LIT!”

    • Renate
      November 18, 2022 at 00:23

      Well said, I second every word said.

      • LeoSun
        November 18, 2022 at 12:57

        Sincerely appreciated. TY.

  3. Alice Wheeler
    November 17, 2022 at 12:57

    Ukrainian children will freeze and starve this winter and it’s all NATO’s fault. Thanks to consortium news for exposing this.

  4. vinnieoh
    November 17, 2022 at 11:22

    Good analysis and commentary by PL, as usual.

    Yes Biden, et al, front and center with competition, confrontation, and the inevitable conflict, which to the exceptionalism sensitivities of such neocons can ONLY be avoided by the capitulation of our military, economic, and ideological adversaries (that would be just about everyone, when inevitably those ‘others’ come to their senses.) (Also, see the ongoing train wreck of the egoist known as Donald J. Trump – “see, hear, speak no evil of me, or I’ll burn you to the ground.” There is no, or very little, difference.)

    This has gone beyond the sad, the comical, and the bizarre. It is deranged and dangerous.

    At this moment in human history when global cooperation and joint effort is urgently needed, the powers-that-be of the US would drag all of humanity to a final conflict. Purely for selfish reasons, as the moral superiority of our ideological claims have become hollow and disproven.

  5. Elial
    November 17, 2022 at 02:20

    Excellent piece!

    Justin Trudeau, ever an embarrassment to Canada, got schooled by Xi on diplomacy on the sidelines.
    The ex-drama teacher seems to think the purpose of meetings with foreign heads of states is to grandstand and pose for group photos.


    They should run a competition for who the dumbest G7 leader is. What an embarrassment to Canada.

  6. Realist
    November 17, 2022 at 02:14

    The following data transcripts were intercepted from an ingenious scientist’s new mind-reading device directed at US President Joe Biden during his recent public encounter with Chinese President Xi. Biden responded with “no comment, till I’ve spoken with my… you know… the thing.”

    “What a drag having to converse with this commie. America’s own corporatist government cannot possibly be responsible for all our national failures, crises, malignant dissension and quite predictable collapses. Surely, as they tell me, all that shit must be the fault of China and Russia, and as our noble president, I am just being wise and brave to tell them so as often as possible. Just look at the stupid move Russia made once again by meddling in our recent elections and ensuring that our party’s spot on policies would continue to their own detriment. Such tyrannical regimes will always be opposed by America’s freedom-loving leadership, as our actions will always be supported by the American people no matter the sacrifices demanded and no matter how much their opposition in the polls. They can still dump all over me with disapproval and will still vote for Democrats as we have proven yet again. I wish I could remember what Netanyahoo wanted me to say to the world. Perhaps ‘Orange man bad’… or did I say that already?”

    • Rebecca Turner
      November 17, 2022 at 03:08

      I suspect that any such device would have reported little more than, “Chinese guy… ummm name, forget… why I here? What’s my name?… need cup coffee…” I think it’s a very long time since Joseph Biden thought in connected ideas and polysyllabic words.

  7. Willd
    November 16, 2022 at 22:33

    The Chinese see right through all of the US crap. They know Biden is a liar, fool and incompetent – and has limited authority. They fully understand the US’ hegemonic ambitions, and are not taken in by anything US politicians say or do. Like Russia they play the long game.

    Also, I don’t think there are any genuine ‘statesmen’ in the US or in Europe for that matter. A statesman is usually defined as a ‘political leader regarded as a disinterested promoter of the public good’, and a ‘political leader whose wisdom, integrity, etc, win great respect’.

    Can anyone name one in the West? Just one?

    • joey_n
      November 18, 2022 at 02:33

      Victor Orban?

  8. lester
    November 16, 2022 at 22:14

    It’s a safe bet that neither Biden nor his subordinates know anything about Chinese history. They probably don’t know much about US history.

    Chinese govermemts have had a lot of success out-waiting troublesome foreigners like the Huns, the Mongols, teh British, the Japanese …. The current constamt-warfare mode of governance in the US perhaps looks shaky to Xi and his subordinates, too.

  9. Jeff Harrison
    November 16, 2022 at 18:58

    Well, Patrick, the word that comes to mind is sclerosis. The entire US government, especially the deep state, has become sclerotic. Stiff, unable to bend and react to differing circumstances. I’m going to steal from Barry Goldwater here:

    “Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.”

    All you have to do is replace preachers/christians with neo-cons and delete the Republican because both wings of our corporate party are infested with neo-cons and there you have it.

  10. November 16, 2022 at 18:19

    What can you expect from old Joe, and the dumbing down of the American republican dream. Its gross ignorance of critical thought along with the arrogance of its militarism, is a light into the dark of its future. Any change is anathema to its bullying power rendering it stupid in the world of politics. Myopic rampant Capitalism is slipping down the rabbit hole of irrelevance.

  11. forceOfHabit
    November 16, 2022 at 17:36

    This is the only discussion of the Biden/Xi meeting (that I have seen) that mentions the semi-conductor issue. I can’t imagine the Chinese taking anything the US has to say seriously unless that critical economic bombshell is forthrightly addressed.

  12. David Otness
    November 16, 2022 at 16:41

    Insert “Russia” wherever China-Sino-Chinese is mentioned:

    “Say what? Refusing to put a floor in the Sino–American relationship has been the building block of U.S. policy since the Biden regime came to power in January 2021. China has since that day made its perfectly reasonable expectations clear and has drawn all the red lines it needs, only to see Washington ignore the expectations, the red lines and everything else the Chinese have had to say.”

    “The Bull in a China shop” syndrome. Or perhaps as well, ‘The China Syndrome’ as expressed in the 1980s film of the same name.

    Thanks, Patrick, and Consortium News.

  13. Jim Thomas
    November 16, 2022 at 16:31

    Mr. Lawrence,

    Thank you for so cogently articulating the sorry state of what passes for U.S. “diplomacy”. I was filled with dread when I heard about the scheduled meeting between Mr. Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, not because I am opposed to diplomacy but, rather, because I fully support it and am acutely aware, as is anyone who pays the slightest attention to the foreign policy of Biden’s Administration, that neither Biden nor any of the administration’s “bench of incompetents”, as you rightly call them, are capable of practicing diplomacy. This, as you make clear, is an extremely serious defect at this critical and dangerous time due to U.S. conflicts with two nuclear armed nations, both of which were started by relentless U.S. aggression.

    I watched in disgust and horror last March when the U.S. “diplomatic corps” attempted, in dramatically unsuccessful fashion, to lecture the highly professional Chinese diplomatic corps about how China must comply with the phony “Rules-Based International Order” constructed (of what, no one seems to know) by the U.S. I am 79 years old and cannot remember any performance by the U.S. on the international stage which compares with the level of that disaster other than the record setting level of embarrassment of Colin Powell’s lies about weapons of mass destruction at the U.N.

    I have asked this question a number of times in various comments and to friends and acquaintances and have yet to receive any satisfactory answer: Is there even one adult in a leadership position in the U.S. government with enough influence to change the course of the reckless and irresponsible foreign policy being practiced by the U.S.? I know of no such person. Unless and until that changes the American people are at the mercy of incompetent fools.

  14. Lois Gagnon
    November 16, 2022 at 16:16

    No doubt the Russians and Chinese are cautiously watching the US circle the drain while hoping along with the rest of the world we don’t drag them down with us.

  15. November 16, 2022 at 15:43

    “But those sailing the American ship of state, from the president on down, have neither imagination nor creativity nor courage. All they can do is reiterate past positions while expecting the other side to respond differently.”
    That’s not the problem. The problem is that warmongering psychopaths seeking “full spectrum dominance” have been in charge of US foreign policy since WWII.

  16. Patricia P Tursi
    November 16, 2022 at 15:26

    Biden diplomacy, as with any other cognitive behavior, such as finding one’s way off a stage, is an oxymoron and not worth discussion.

  17. mgr
    November 16, 2022 at 13:26

    Thank you as always for the straight-talk, Patrick. Adults in the room..? It seems that the Biden admin’s neocons, along with their entire political party, are even more incompetent than Bush&Cheney’s. Quite a feat.

    • R. Billie
      November 17, 2022 at 20:47

      Indeed, Full spectrum dumbinance.R

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